Spike Jonze doesn't waste any time introducing us to the technology at the center of Her. "An operating system that can mimic human sentience?" a dangerously lonely Joaquin Phoenix wonders after catching glimpse of an ad in a transit station. "Don't mind if I do!" (He doesn't actually say that, don't worry.) But by the time we're meant to believe that such a world can seamlessly integrate characters like Scarlett Johansson's automated voice Samantha into the lives of living, breathing men and women like Phoenix's Theodore, we're already established residents of this arresting, icy, quivering world the filmmaker has built. We meet Theodore midway through his recitation of a "handwritten letter" he penned on behalf of a woman to her husband of many years. That's his job — tapping into his own unique sensititivies to play ghostwriter for people hoping to adorn their spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, and children with personal notes of personal affection. Theodore is no independent contractor; he's part of a thriving company, and we almost get the feeling that the folks on the receiving end of these letters are in the know. Before we ever encounter Samantha, we're embedded in the central conceit of the movie: emotional surrogacy is an industry on the rise.
What makes Jonze's world so palatable is that, beneath its marvelously eerie aesthetic, this idea is barely science-fiction. Theodore, humbled and scarred by a recent divorce from lifelong love Catherine (Rooney Mara, who contrasts Johansson by giving a performance that, for a large sum of the movie, is all body and no voice), accesses the will to go on through interractions with video game characters and phone-sex hotlines. But the ante is upped with Samantha, the self-named operating system that Theodore purchases to stave off loneliness, deeming choice a far less contorting one than spending time with old pals like Amy (Amy Adams)... at first.
Samantha evolves rather quickly from an articulate Siri into a curious companion, who is fed and engaged by Theodore just as much as she feeds and engages him. Jonze paces his construction of what, exactly, Samantha is so carefully that we won't even catch the individual steps in her change — along with Theodore, we slowly grow more and more enamored and mystified by his computer/assistant/friend/lover before we can recognize that we're dealing with a different being altogether from the one we met at that inceptive self-aware "H-hello?" But Jonze lays tremendous groundwork to let us know this story is all for something: all the while, as the attractions build and the hearts beat faster for Samantha, we foster an unmistakable sense of doom. We can't help but dread the very same perils that instituted one infamous admission: "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."
But Jonze's sci-fi constructs are so cohesively intertwined with his love story that our dread doesn't exactly translate to an anticipation of HAL's hostile takeover. Her wedges us so tightly between Theodore and Samantha that our fears of the inevitable clash between man and machine apprehend a smaller, more intimate ruin. As Samantha's growth become more surprising and challenging to Theodore, to herself, and to us, the omens build for each.
And although all three parties know better, we cannot help but affix ourselves to the chemistry between Theodore and Samantha, and to the possibility that we're building toward something supreme. A good faction of this is due to the unbelievable performances of Phoenix — representing the cautious excitement that we all know so painfully well — and Johansson, who twists her disembodied voice so empathetically that we find ourselves, like Theodore, forgetting that we have yet to actually meet her. The one castigation that we can attach to the casting of Johansson is that such a recognizable face will, inevitably, work its way into our heads when we're listening to her performance. It almost feels like a cheat, although we can guarantee that a performance this good would render a figure just as vivid even if delivered by an unknown.
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In this way, Her is as effective a comment on the healthiest human relationships as it is on those that rope in third parties — be they of the living, automated, or greeting card variety. In fact, the movie has so many things to say that it occasionally steps on its own feet, opening up ideas so grand (and coloring them so brightly) that it sometimes has trouble capping them coherently. Admittedly, if Spike Jonze had an answer to some of the questions he's asking here, he'd probably be suspected of himself being a super-intelligent computer. But in telling the story of a man struggling to understand what it means to be in love, to an operating system or not, Jonze invites us to dissect all of the manic and trying and wonderful and terrifying and incomprehensible elements therein. Just like Samantha, Her doesn't always know what to do with all of its brilliance. But that might be part of why we're so crazy over the both of them.
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Out of IMDb's Top Fifty Westerns of all time, only five of the ranked movies were made after the year 1990. Kind of amazing, considering the genre was one of America's staples back in the early half of the 1900s, capable of spitting out a few dozen titles in a single year. But either audiences lost interest or Westerns lost their luster, as these days, the horse-riding, pistol-toting adventures only make their way into theaters when they're mixed with "blockbuster friendly" genres (Cowboys & Aliens, Rango, Jonah Hex) or directed by auteurs with Oscar potential (The Coen Bros' True Grit).
But thanks to the world of independent film, the spirit of the Western is being kept alive—and, frankly, it might be the best way to do it.
Limiting the scope is what makes Blackthorn—a new film out now on VOD and in theaters October 7—a compelling, tension-filled Western. Forget large-scale set pieces—this isn't 3:10 to Yuma or any of the other action-driven cowboy stories of late. Instead, Blackthorn unfolds a character-driven quest across a sprawling backdrop, centered on one of the more infamous bandits in history: Butch Cassidy (played by rugged writing/acting legend Sam Shepard). The movie follows Cassidy—now living under the alias Blackthorn—as he wraps up a twenty-year stint in Bolivia and prepares for his journey back to America. With a horse, a gun and his life savings in hand, Cassidy makes his way across the Bolivian desert, a journey rudely interrupted by an on-the-run criminal, Eduardo (Eduardo Noriega). After a brief skirmish, Cassidy's horse runs off, leaving the two warring men to work together for survival.
Westerns are at their most familiar (and often cartoonish) when they let the plot do the talking. How many times can we really watch X rescue Y so he can Z without having an ounce of emotion invested in the scenario? Blackthorn rectifies the issue, not by conjuring up a crazy, never-before-seen plot, but by filling it with characters we care about. Whether intended or not, it plays like a spiritual sequel to the classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, including some flashback scenes starring a young Butch (courtesy of Game of Thrones actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).
What really transforms Blackthorn into a fresh take on an archetypical story is Shepard's Cassidy, a man burdened by his outlaw past. Through Shepard's weathered exterior, we understand Cassidy seeks redemption—which he believes will come after reuniting with The Sundance Kid's son. Blackthorn is at the end of is life and with only one goal, so while he's OK taking the life of anyone that stand's in the way of his mission (and, boy, does he do so), he's also accepting and warm to those who may have crossed him. He befriends Eduardo and contemplates the life pursuit of his lawmen hunter Mackinley (Stephen Rea). He reflects on the memories of his past that continue to haunt him, all while crossing the dangerous landscapes of Bolivia and escaping enemy fire.
Director Mateo Gil, writer of Abre Los Ojos (the original Vanilla Sky) and Oscar-nominee The Sea Inside, sets his film in a lush, unique setting and puts all his chips on Shepard. The gamble revitalizes the genre. Whereas HBO's Deadwood didn't feel anything like Stagecoach, Blackthorn's gritty, intimate tale maintains the most important part of the Western: the soul.
In the new film Blackthorn, director Mateo Gil ponders what might have happened if Butch Cassidy didn't die in a hale of bullets at San Vincente. Magnolia today released a new trailer for the film, which stars Sam Shepard in the role made famous by Paul Newman:
Blackthorn co-stars Eduardo Noriega and Stephen Rea. The film debuts on VOD on October 2 and in theaters on October 7.
Check out our Paul Newman gallery:
The late actor played the real life outlaw opposite Robert Redford in the Oscar-winning movie, which appeared to show both of their characters die in the final shoot-out.
But movie bosses are reviving Newman's Cassidy character for a sequel, which will show the gun-toting cowboy as an old man, played by Sam Shephard.
The follow-up, titled Blackthorn, will pick up the story several years after the end of the first film and will follow Cassidy's attempts to pull off one last robbery.
Oscar-winning writer/director Mateo Gil will tackle the project and admits he's delighted to be reviving his favourite movie genre - the Western. He says in a statement, "One of the things that I like best about Westerns is that it's a truly moral genre. The characters face life and death and other very important matters (freedom, commitment and loyalty, courage, treachery). It's a genre that helps us look at our own life and find a way to face it."